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to chambermaids. He could not be a young gentleman; for young gentlemen are not apt to inspire such indignation. He must be a middle-aged man, and confoundedly ugly into the bargain, or the girl would not have taken the matter in such terrible dudgeon. I confess I was sorely puzzled. In a few minutes I heard the voice of
landlady. I caught a glance of her as she came tramping upstairs, her face glowing, her cap flaring, her tongue wagging the whole way.
“She'd have no such doings in her house, she'd warrant. If gentlemen did spend their money freely, it was no rule. She'd have no servant-maids of her's treated in that way, when they were about their work, that's what she wouldn't.”
As I hate squabbles, particularly with women, and above all with pretty women, I slunk back into my room, and partly closed the door; but my curiosity was too much excited not to listen. The landlady marched intrepidly to the enemy's citadel and entered it with a storm. The door closed after her. I heard her voice in high windy clamour for a moment or two. Then it gradually subsided, like a gust of wind in a garret. Then there was a laugh; then I heard nothing more.
After a little while my landlady came out with an odd smile on her face, adjusting her was a little on one side. As she went downstairs I heard the landlord ask her what was the matter; she said, “Nothing at all-only the girl's a fool!” I was more than ever perplexed what to make of this unaccountable personage, who could put a good-natured chambermaid in a passion, and send away a termagant landlady in smiles. He could not be so old, nor cross, nor ugly either.
I had to go to work at his picture again, and to paint him entirely different. I now set him down for one of those Stout Gentlemen that are frequently met with swaggering about the doors of country inns. Moist, merry fellows, in Belcher handkerchiefs, whose bulk is a little assisted by
malt liquors. Men who have seen the world, and been sworn at Highgate. Who are used to tavern life; up to all the tricks of tapsters, and knowing in the ways of sinful publicans. Free livers on a small scale, who call all the waiters by name, tousle the maids, gossip with the landlady at the bar, and prose over a pint of port or a glass of negus after dinner.
The morning wore away in forming these and similar surmises. As fast as I wove one system of belief, some movement of the unknown would completely overturn it, and throw all my thoughts again into confusion. Such are the solitary operations of a feverish mind. I was, as I have said, extremely nervous, and the continual meditation on the concerns of this, invisible personage began to have its effects—I was getting a fit of fidgets.
Dinner-time came. I hoped the Stout Gentleman might dine in the traveller's room, and that I might at length get a view of his person; but no—he had dinner served in his own room. What could be the meaning of this solitude and mystery ? He could not be a radical; there was something too aristocratical in thus keeping himself apart from the rest of the world, and condemning himself to his own dull company throughout a rainy day. And then too he lived too well for a discontented politician. He seemed to expatiate on a variety of dishes, and to sit over his wine like a jolly friend of good living.
Indeed, my doubts on this head were soon at an end, for he could not have finished his first bottle before I could faintly hear him humming a tune, and on listening I found it to be “God Save the King.” 'Twas plain then he was no radical, but a faithful subject; one that grew loyal over his bottle, and was ready to stand by his king and constitution when he could stand by nothing else. But who could he be? My conjectures began to run wild. Was he not some personage of distinction travelling incog. ? God knows !” said I, at my wit's end; "it maybe one of the royal family for aught I know, for they are all Stout Gentlemen!”
The weather continued rainy. The mysterious person kept his room, and, as far as I could judge, his chair ; for I did not hear him move. In the meantime, as the day advanced, the traveller's room began to be frequented. Some who had just arrived came in buttoned up in box coats; others came home who had been dispersed about the town. Some took their dinners, and some their tea. Had I been in a different mood, I should have found entertainment in studying this peculiar class of men. There were two, especially, who were regular wags of the road, and up to all the standing jokes of travellers. They had a thousand sly things to say to the waiting-maid, whom they called Louisa, and Ethelinda, and a dozen other fine names, changing the name every time, and chuckling amazingly at their own waggery.
My mind, however, had become completely engrossed by the Stout Gentleman. He had kept my fancy in chase during a long day, and it was not now to be diverted from the scent.
The evening gradually wore away. The travellers read the papers two or three times over. Some drew around the fire, and told long stories about their horses, about their adventures, their over-turns, and breakings down. They discussed the credits of different merchants and different inns, and the two wags told several choice anecdotes of pretty chambermaids and kind landladies. All this passed as they were quietly taking what they called their “nightcaps,"—that is to say, strong glasses of brandy and water with sugar, or some other mixture of the kind; after which they one after another rang for “ boots” and the chambermaids, and walked up to bed in old shoes, cut down into marvellously uncomfortable slippers.
There was only one man left; a short-legged, long-bodied, plethoric fellow, with a very large sandy head.
He sat by himself, with a glass of port wine negus and a spoon, sipping and stirring until nothing was left but the spoon. He gradually fell asleep, bolt upright in his chair, with the empty glass standing before him; and the candle seemed to fall asleep too, for the wick grew long and black and cabbaged at the end, and dimmed the little light that remained in the chamber.
The gloom that now prevailed was contagious. Around hung the shapeless and almost spectral box-coats of departed travellers, long since buried in deep sleep. I only heard the ticking of the clock, with the deep-drawn breathing of the sleeping toper, and the dripping of the rain, drop-drop-drop, from the eaves of the house.
The church bells chimed midnight. All at once the Stout Gentleman began to walk overhead, pacing slowly backwards and forwards. There was something extremely awful in all this—especially to me in my state of nerves. These ghastly great-coats, these guttural breathings, and the creaking footsteps of the mysterious being. His steps grew fainter and fainter, and at length died away. I could bear it no longer; I was wound up to the desperation of a hero of romance. “Be he who or what he may," said I to myself, “I'll have a sight of him!” I seized a chamber candle and hurried up to No. 13. The door stood ajar. I hesitated—I entered—the room was deserted. There stood a large, broad-bottomed elbow-chair at a table, on which was an empty tumbler and a Times newspaper, and the room smelt powerfully of Stilton cheese.
The mysterious stranger had evidently but just retired. I turned off to my room sorely disappointed. As I went along the corridor I saw a large pair of boots, with dirty, waxed tops, standing at the door of a bed-chamber. They doubtless belonged to the unknown; but it would not do to disturb so redoubtable a personage in his den; he might discharge a pistol or something worse at my head. I went